Thursday, August 17, 2017

Another Desert Adventure

Pull up a chair and get comfortable. Going to be a fairly long post. I'm calling this one "Mystery Cabins Hike". While perusing Google Maps, I noticed what looked like a couple old desert cabins in Joshua Tree National Park. There's a dirt road coming in from the north, but it's a long, dusty dirt road and you can't tell if it's even open to vehicle travel. Of more interest is the fact that the cabins are only located about 1.5 miles west of the main road near Cap Rock, so a relatively easy cross-country desert hike. As I looked closer on Google Maps, I could see a very faint "jeep" trail, that occasionally disappeared and then restarted. I knew it would be hard to follow on the ground, so I was careful to mark waypoints on my phone so as not to get turned around.
Google Maps satellite view of the "mystery cabins"
I knew ahead of time this hike was a long shot. It's very likely that these cabins are private property/privately owned and fenced off with No Trespassing signs posted. There are (surprisingly) a few areas in the park that are still privately owned by individuals or families that had property here long before the area was designated "national park" and refused to give it up. At any rate, it would only be 3 miles round trip to see these cabins and hopefully solve the mystery!

The first thing I noticed was a fair number of dead Joshua Trees. There must have been a fire that come through this area a number of years ago. This poor fellow seems to have collapsed about waist high!


Much more common to see the skeletal remains lying on the ground. In the dry, desert air, who knows how long it would take a Joshua Tree "skeleton" to decompose? I'm guessing a very long time. Which reminds me, I was reading that some of the largest Joshua trees in the Park are 800 - 900 years old! Pretty amazing.


This guy died but is still standing. Oh, and I was right. Very hard to follow the jeep trail that I spotted on Google Maps. I ended up just making my own path, checking my waypoints, and trying to avoid thorns and stickers (pretty much impossible).


Another "fallen soldier"... this one in black & white. He looked liked he was a big boy in his prime. May be at least a few hundred years old??

Ah ha, you see it?? After about a mile or so, this is the view you will see. Look closely and you can just make out a cabin in the middle of the photo at the base of the hill. Based on Google Maps, there should be a second cabin around here somewhere. So far, no fences or signs anywhere.

Hiking west, here is the first cabin you will come across. A bit of a disappointment. I was hoping to see an old homestead in something close to original condition. Instead I found a house that was being totally rebuilt from the ground up with cinderblock walls and a big front deck being added.


Here's the view looking directly at the front of cabin #1. That's going to be a nice deck with a killer view when it's done! I can only wonder what the original cabin looked like, who built it, when was it built, and what was it used for?

Above is just a small piece of the view from the front deck. Pretty nice, right? Nobody around for miles.

Here's mystery cabin #2. It's a couple hundred yards west of mystery cabin #1. Like cabin #1, it's in the process of being totally rebuilt, and much further along in the process. Hard to say what the original construction looked like, but it appears someone is putting stone over concrete block. When completed, it will look like an old stone cabin. The windows and doors are covered by heavy steel shutters big locks. Built like Fort Knox for some reason, and unfortunately, no place to peek inside to see what it looks like.

This side of the cabin is facing south (toward the hills). Look closely and you can kind of see how the stonework is being cemented to concrete block.

Closer view of front of mystery cabin #2


Lot's of old debris on the west side of mystery cabin #2. It appears the cabin has been "gutted", with no plans to reuse the original materials. Which is too bad. Makes me wonder about the history of these cabins, and wouldn't it be worth the extra effort to preserve them in their original condition?

Old desert outhouse locate behind cabin #2. Too bad they didn't cut out some windows so you could enjoy the view!

Not too far from the cabin and the outhouse is the shower. You can forget about modesty here, but no one around for miles, so it probably doesn't matter! I didn't see any signs of a well in the area, so not sure what the water source was (or is) for these cabins. Probably a well somewhere... I just missed it.

Hiking up the hill a little ways provides a nice view of the cabins and the beautiful little valley they sit in. It's one of the prettier areas in the Park.



A few days after completing this hike I reached out to David Denslow, Lead Park Ranger, JTNP. He's a good guy and always quick to respond to my emails. I asked him if he was familiar with the "mystery" cabins, if they are private property, and who is doing the work to rebuild the cabins? He responded that yes, definitely private property, and the Park Service is in the process of researching and writing the history of these structures as part of the "Homesteads & Inholdings Historic Resources" study being conducted by a PhD candidate at UC Riverside.

It's good to know that the history of the cabins is being studied and hopefully recovered and will be shared with the public. However, this experience did raise a bunch of questions in my mind. I'm sure it's the Park Service doing (or at least supervising) the rebuilding of these cabins. In the spirit of "national parks aren't owned by anyone, they are owned by everyone", should the public have input (or did they have input) into how these cabins are being restored? How about input into how they will be used in the future? Will they be restricted for use only by Park employees, or will they be open to the general public? What is the mechanism for general public Park users to have input into these important decisions?

Running out of time, so join me next time for some photos from my return hike back to my car from the "mystery cabins". Thanks for dropping by!!

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35 comments:

  1. Wonderful adventure! I particularly enjoyed the dead tree shots. But the whole post was most enjoyable.

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  2. Great post!!
    Cabins in the middle of nowhere!!! Scary thought. I would not live there. But even I am curious to find out, to read about their history.
    Looking forward to your next post.
    Greetings

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  3. Interesting hike and results. The view may be great from the cabin, but it looks rather lonely to me.

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  4. very interesting. I like your dead tree images.

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  5. Beautifully captured in words and images!

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  6. I really like the Joshua tree; I need to get closer to one.

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  7. What an adventure! I used to be sad when I saw dead trees, but now I live in the forest, my immediate reaction is: firewood! Everyone around here has two things, a deck surrounding at least part of the house, and a wood stove! The latter was a new thing for a city slicker, but central heat it not cutting it when the snow lays down here, or when there's a storm. Number 2 cabin I would like to have - love the look of stone walls!Thanks for stopping by and have a great and adventurous weekend:)

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  8. Strange finds. Wonder what is their history.

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  9. Hello, that is an awesome hike to the cabins. I like seeing the dead trees laying on the ground, somehow they provide something back to the soil. I hope the cabins are historically restored. Great post and photos, thanks for sharing. historically restored

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  10. This is a post I will savor on my own little adventure - starting tomorrow. Thank you for taking us along!

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  11. What a great hike and finding those cabins was very interesting. I also would like to know their history and what they were used for in the past. I wonder how they will be used after they're rebuilt.
    Excellent photos, I loo forward to your return journey. Thanks!

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  12. Wow! That deck view WAS a view worth killing for (okay...I exaggerate...but it's beautiful)

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  13. Beautiful desert photography and wonderful post about your 'journey' and on going history of the cabins ~ thanks, ^_^

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  14. Very nice piece of property to have. Well done on finding them and taking us on your hike.

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  15. No need for a window on the outhouse---just open the door! ;)

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  16. How very interesting. I would love to know the history of the old cabins. Had to be somebody homesteading there. I spent a summer in a lookout tower in Oregon and the outhouse was sitated on a ridge with the best view around. take the door off!
    Always enjoy your posts
    MB

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  17. Wow - what a wonderful adventure!
    Lovely photos and write-up.
    Have a Happy Weekend!
    Peace :)

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  18. Those cabins look delightful - and such lovely views.

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  19. I can understand why those mystery cabins were irresistible and you had to go and look at them!
    Actually, I quite like the look of the stone-walled cabin, even though it is a shame that there seems to be nothing left or re-used from its previous life.
    The picture with the lone tree in the middle and the stunning colours of sky and rocks in the background is wonderful!

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  20. Great black and white shot of the 'fallen soldier' tree and what an exciting hike to find the cabins. Have to say I'm surprised that one is being rebuilt with cinderblock but the other stonework one looks much better in the desert valley.
    Great post!

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  21. What an incredible hike. Those trees make me feel a little sad. I also wonder who would want to live out in the middle of nowhere?

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  22. interesting! You have skills as an explorer and photog!

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  23. An interesting post and quite an adventure! They do have some wonderful views.

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  24. Pretty impressive scenery, I also like take unknown roads to see where they lead. What do they do for water there?

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  25. Very interesting post! How amazing this place is!
    Have a nice Sunday! :-)

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  26. Great and interesting post as always, backed up with excelent photos. I was going to ask if people needed planning permission before building, but I think you kinda answered that.
    All the very best, Gordon.

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  27. Such an interesting story and cool adventure! Thanks for sharing.

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  28. must be very lonely to live in any of those cabins. A mystery for sure.

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  29. Wow I was surprised by the last bit of this ...why would the NPS supervise building on private property? Why IS there private property within the Park? And if they are doing that research because those were historical structures, why are they not renovating/preserving instead of demolishing and rebuilding? But what a very interesting hike and I deeply admire your skill in finding these off the beaten track places and grateful for your sharing. I would not be able to hike in there any more (even with a good guide) so probably I really shouldn't care what they do to them. But I hate to hear of history being lost.

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  30. Your posts can never be too long, your pictures are just so great the posts can go on and on. I have no idea why I, coming from a country full of deep forests and a lake everywhere you look, love the desert so much. Just gorgeous. Looking forward to the return hike.

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  31. They are a mystery to me! Nice find Pete. I have some on spots on Google Earth to investigate. I may, or may not have spotted these, but I'm thinking I haven't.

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